By Mary Kate McGrath - September 9, 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a new strain on state and local budgets - the loss of tax revenue from the economic fallout of the disease and subsequent lockdown orders has been immense while responding to the disease - from scaling up testing to pitching emergency field hospitals - has come with high costs as well. States could face a gap of at least $555 billion through the 2022 year, with economists warning this period could be more damaging this time than during the great recession, as per the New York Times.
There’s no plan to subsidize coronavirus costs as of yet, meaning that state and local governments will need to get creative. Moving forward, shared services will continue to benefit state and local governments, saving critical budget dollars and boosting innovative response.
The concept of “shared services” has been around for a long time - a cornerstone of the corporate sector, a shared services model requires reducing redundant services or consolidating systems, as per GovLoop. By prioritizing shared services, state and local leaders can prevent more drastic measures, such as reducing headcount, forcing workers to take pay cuts, or limiting the number of resources in the community.
Public service agencies have seen great success with “shared services” budget saving practices, limiting the number of active systems, identifying duplicate tools or functions, and combining processes across agencies. Ultimately the audit necessary to try a shared services model will improve state and local officials’ knowledge of the agencies under their jurisdiction, and break down communication barriers between teams.
Government leaders hoping to implement a shared services model amid the pandemic budget strain should invest in communications strategies and tools. If agencies or departments are siloed off from each other, communication breakdown can occur, causing multiple units of the state or local government to be paying for the same tools or putting time into similar projects.
Proactive communication can put disparate teams in touch - for example, public safety teams, such as firefighters or EMS, can connect with public health leaders, devising a streamlined response plan that will allow both to better manage the safety and health of community members. Teams can collaborate on and use the same data management and communication tools, eliminating the need to invest in multiple technologies for the same purpose.
Every state is required to balance their budgets, and doing so post-pandemic will require making up the lost revenue from COVID-19 response as well as sales, corporate, and individual income tax. Many government leaders will consider tapping into emergency funds, raising taxes, or finding extreme ways to cut costs, including eliminating jobs.
Economists warn against making personnel cuts before absolutely necessary - not only will agencies potentially be eliminating talent in the field, the cuts will also slow the economy’s ability to recover post-vaccine, as per the New York Times.
Before resorting to the major job or program cuts, leaders should evaluate the budget overall, exploring areas where services might be consolidated or redundancy might be occurring.
Government leaders must continue to supply critical services to community members amid the ongoing health crisis and economic pain. If leaders are willing to look into a “shared services” approach, they may be able to fend off the impending economic strain and stumbling recovery, while also continuing to keep residents safe and healthy.
Implementing shared services will require a unilateral effort and constant communications. First, governments must streamline complex communications, reaching community members where they are via email, voice call, or SMS text message. Any change in the protocol can potentially disrupt or change a service provided to the public - such as access to the social safety net or unemployment offices - and should be proactively communicated to avoid confusion.
There are several proactive measures state or local leaders should take before considering a transition to a shared services model. Government leaders planning the move must understand workstreams and processes ahead of time, develop a clear plan that will then be communicated to state or local employees internally, and establish a risk management protocol.
Often a shared services approach will require investing in or building new infrastructure, which means there will be a margin for error. Make sure any effort to audit or consolidate services has a team supervising the effort, including IT management for new technologies and a contingency plan for any obstacles that arise as new systems are designed.
One critical element of a “shared services” approach will be to invest in tools with a high level of functionality. A coronavirus recovery solution can address a variety of needs amid the ongoing public health crisis, enhancing officials’ ability to monitor data, communicate any changes both internally and externally, and increase response posture overall across departments.
The solution allows government officials to simplify data collection and management, with a custom-branded registration process, data validation checks, automated data update reminders, and a resident help desk. All the data is confidential, secure, and resident-volunteered, stored in compliance with state or local laws or regulations.
Watch the short video below to see how state and local agencies can improve on their response amid COVID-19:
In addition to broad data management capability, this solution can also be used to proactively identify and communicate with residents who might be at high-risk for COVID-19. Administrators can customize and target communications based on both geography and conditions, reaching the most vulnerable members of the community.
For example, if an individual in a certain area reports contracting COVID-19, administrators can then inform high-risk individuals in the area of the case, advising them to self-isolate or take extra precautions. If you’re able to maximize the functionality of a government communications system, the tool will meet a variety of needs or services, both internally and externally, and the investment will eliminate the need for additional investments or cuts.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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